Ted Simons: The head of Maricopa County's public hospital for the poor is getting a $125,000 raise, which brings her salary to a half million dollars. Many are questioning the pay raise, including "Arizona Republic" columnist Laurie Roberts. What is Maricopa Integrated Health System?
Laurie Roberts: Basically it's the charity hospital we have in the community, and apparently there is some good money to be made in the charity hospital industry, to get that sort of a raise. It's just mind-boggling. Any sort of a raise anymore is pretty good.
Ted Simons: Is this a governmental agency, quasi governmental?
Laurie Roberts: Not quasi, it is an arm of Maricopa County, has it's own separate entity and board and taxing authority. You and I helped pay for this, along with other things that help figure into charity hospital events. It's an enormous mind-boggling raise. I want to know where I get one.
Ted Simons: Back to defining terms, who sits on the board, who decides who sits on the board?
Laurie Roberts: The board is a five-member board, much like the five-member Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, elected from five supervisory districts set up as political jurisdictions within the county. It's the same for this board and we elect them. We just elected three new ones, a new majority.
Ted Simons: Betsey Bayless --
Laurie Roberts: She's been there about seven years at the hospital.
Ted Simons: We're talking a raise from $375,000 to $500,000.
Laurie Roberts: That's a 33% increase. And this is her base pay, by the way. It would affect other things on top of that, any other bonuses would be affected by that, as well.
Ted Simons: What were the reasons for such a raise?
Laurie Roberts: Because she works hard and she deserves it.
Ted Simons: And that's it?
Laurie Roberts: That's pretty much it. She has had only one raise in the time she's been here. One of the board members tells me if she had gotten consistent raises she would probably be at $500,000 anyway. They say that's the going rate or still a little low even for a public hospital administrator. The thing that is so odd about it, besides just the timing, and the thing that's so curious about it, she's on her way out. You give a raise to someone to keep them. She's already announced she's retiring. They decided on her own, she apparently didn't ask for it. It's a brand-new board of Betsey Bayless supporters. They decided on their own that she was worth it.
Ted Simons: Why are they Betsey Bayless supporters?
Laurie Roberts: They were specifically encouraged to run against sitting board members. To understand, you have to go back to the middle of last summer when Betsey Bayless suddenly sprang on the board that she wanted to put a bond issue on the ballot and she needed immediate approval. They wanted to build a new public hospital downtown. The Board said, we need more time, a public hearing, and besides that, some people think the thing to do is not to put that kind of money into a third redundant hospital downtown, but instead to put it into clinics around the county. The board said no, we're not going to do this. Several months later Betsey Bayless announced she would be retiring at the end of the year. Some people got together and found new people to run against the board members. The chairman is Michael Cowley, he heads the nonprofit arm of the hospital. He also is interested in building this downtown hospital. He said the old board members did not have the vision to bring this county district forward. Which I interpret to mean they weren't going to approve the billion-dollar bond issue. Now we have a new board filled with people, I would suspect -- Well, clearly they are big Betsey Bayless supporters. I'm assuming there won't be too many more months before we start to hear about this billion-dollar hospital we need again.
Ted Simons: Is she still planning to leave?
Laurie Roberts: She is. She took a contract for another year to give them time to find her replacement. I guess it takes about five months to find a replacement. On the very last day of the year she announced, knowing there would be a new board, she announced she was going stay on for another year. Now in one of the first board meetings that they have, they are only a month old, this board, they approved this monstrosity of a pay increase.
Ted Simons: Is this, though -- and if she is going to leave, I'm assuming eventually she's going to leave.
Laurie Roberts: I wouldn't, not for $500,000. I mean, I wouldn't leave.
Ted Simons: Okay. But if the going rate -- if that's a valid argument, $500,000 a year is the going rate for this kind of a physician, why not bump her pay there so that the next person applying sees that salary and says, all right, now we're talking business.
Laurie Roberts: In the documents they have had to fill out, they have already set that as the minimum salary they will offer for the next person. I don't know why the salary of the person on their way out would have an impact on the person coming in. That's the minimum salary they are offering next time.
Ted Simons: If she's only had one raise in seven years and people on the board and others say it's the right thing to do, why not?
Laurie Roberts: Well, public hospitals have said for a long time that they are suffering, that they don't have enough money. We have gone through this thing with AHCCCHS and Medicaid and everything else. I would think the CEO would be the last to get a raise of this sort. They keep saying, she works so hard, and she absolutely does. Betsey Bayless has been around a long time, a highly regarded administrator, elected public official, no doubt she works hard. But who over at the hospital doesn't work hard? Do the janitors, the doctors, the nurses, the cafeteria ladies? It just is unseemly to give this sort of raise, especially to someone who is leaving.
Ted Simons: Last question: Do you see a connection between this $1 billion proposed hospital for downtown -- is it generally perceived that this third hospital downtown is needed?
Laurie Roberts: I don't believe it's generally perceived that way. If you ask the other two hospitals, they will say it's not needed. They need a place to train doctors and all, but I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to spend a billion dollars building this hospital. I'm not against it, I just thought it was rush to try to put it before the voters this year. Obviously the old board did, too, and now they are gone.
Ted Simons: What is the response to all of this?
Laurie Roberts: People are pretty outraged. Far be it from anyone to get a 33% -- well, David got a 33% raise, too, over at Phoenix City Hall. But I think most people are pretty outraged.
Ted Simons: Good to see you, thanks for joining us.
Laurie Roberts: Good to be here.